Sometimes, I try to be clever and people ignore me – which may be a good thing.
I noticed a Bottlenose Dolphin making a fuss hunting for fish – big splashes and noise. I was too slow to catch that ruckus, but a few minutes later I made this photo as it swam through calm water in front of colorful early morning reflections on Gator Creek and left interesting patterns in its wake.
A wake at dawn
I posted it to Flickr and expected people to moan about the pun in the title, but crickets about that. Maybe it would have worked better as “Awake at dawn”. Dunno. I suppose I should leave the comedy to professionals. At least I didn’t get a bunch of nasty comments about it!
Here are two more images from that trip. This one is nearby, about 15 minutes earlier.
Restful rays, distant clouds, and a calm creek
And this one is two hours later, along Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Clouds over the marsh
My drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was rewarding once again and well worth the time. No wonder it’s a favorite place for me!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope all of you are staying safe – take care of yourselves, your friends, and your families. And if you can, make some photos, and even some bad puns!
Like most of you, it’s been two months since I’ve been any distance from home. I’ve kept making photos on walks in our neighborhood, in our yard, or along the way on necessary trips around town. But I’ve been itching to go out on a photo specific excursion and now our stay at home orders have been relaxed here in Florida. So last Monday I drove over on a solo trip to check out Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite nature locations.
I made two circuits around Black Point Wildlife Drive. I looked for sunrise spots and landscapes on the first pass. I might’ve seen a more colorful dawn than this one, but not recently. And the calm winds made for a lovely reflection.
Tranquil bay – Along Black Point Wildlife Drive, about 15 minutes before sunrise.
On the second pass I scouted for wildlife / birds. I didn’t see a tremendous number, but there were enough to make it interesting.
A little spotty: Spotted Sandpiper and reflection. I was happy to find this one since I seldom see them.
There was a feeding frenzy in one of the canals along Black Point. Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons and Ibis were feeding on plentiful minnows. The location was really nice since it was next to a path where I could walk out to get a better angle on the action. Often when I find these, they’re far away or hidden behind mangroves and hard to photograph.
Got one! A Snowy Egret catches a minnow.
If you click on any of these photos, you’ll be able to see a larger image on Flickr. You can then click again to enlarge it even more. Look at the Snowy Egret’s beak to see the minnow it caught in that splash.
Green Heron fly by
Speaking of Green Herons, there were three cars pulled over when I went around the corner at the rest stop on BPWD. People were out and gathered by the canal photographing something I couldn’t see back in the mangroves. In “olden” times, you could find a lot of interesting things by stopping next to other photographers. You still can I suppose, but now days I’m a little pandemic paranoid and getting too close to people can make me nervous. I passed up this stop and kept going – I learned later that they were looking at Green Heron nests. I have to say though that MINWR seems about as safe as you can get. It’s not hard to maintain social distancing by staying in your car and choosing where to get out.
The next image is from a little later on Gator Creek Road. At the time, I just liked the scene / composition with two birds on one rock. I didn’t realize what I had until I got home and looked at it on the computer.
Sharin’ Stone – Hopefully, I identified these correctly: A Semipalmated Plover on the left and a Semipalmated Sandpiper on the right. If so, it’s my first photo of both species. Two life birds in one image!
Which reminds me that I’ve wanted to mention an app. It’s called Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Labs and it’s very good at identifying birds using photos. It seems to be very accurate and complete. And it’s free! It called out the species in this photo for me (but I did ask my friend Kevin M’s. opinion too).
I saw other things on this trip too. Alligators (of course), an opposum, Black Neck Stilts, Roseate Spoonbills and more. One thing I didn’t see: the rock stacks on Gator Creek Road are gone – yay!
MINWR was a very good choice for my first post lockdown photo trip. I was tired when I got back, but I felt rejuvenated. I’m very lucky that I can find many of my favorite photo subjects so close to home. And last Monday at least, they weren’t collecting fees on BPWD.
Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there, stay safe, and take care of each other. And if you can – make some photos!
“Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!” — Si’ahl (Seattle), leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes
Beginning with my very first adventures out in nature, I’ve always been taught to leave no trace. And so I was startled and then a little sad when I saw these along Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge about a week ago.
I’ve seen rock stacks (or rock cairns) before, just not in MINWR. I guess I also noticed that stacking rocks (and posting photos of them on social media) has become a thing. People shouldn’t do this anywhere, and when they start doing it in one of my favorite places, it’s time to speak up.
I looked through my image archives for another photo from near the same spot and found this one from back in 2013 that I never processed or posted before. It’s looking in a different direction, and it shows rocks where they should be. It’s worth a click to view a larger version.
Gator Creek pano
There are of course, legitimate reasons for building rock cairns and different National Parks have different rules. See this NPS page: https://www.nps.gov/articles/rockcairns.htm. However, it’s always wrong to tamper, add to, or build unauthorized cairns in national parks.
I couldn’t find anywhere on-line that specifically says rock stacking is prohibited at MINWR. Even if it’s not against the rules – it’s still ethically, morally, and environmentally wrong. And it’s rude and selfish. Don’t do it.
The best colors at dawn are often before sunrise – sometimes well before. But a couple of minutes after sunrise last Wednesday, I was getting ready to move on when I noticed how colorful the horizon had become. So I decided to make one more photo. I was lucky I had my 24 – 200mm equivalent lens on and I zoomed all the way in. As the image flashed in my viewfinder, I saw a large bird close to the sun. When I recognized how many there were – all flying north (right to left), I made several more exposures.
By the way, this would have been a great time to switch to video, but I’m never able to think of that when I should.
Anyway, I ended up with 7 frames spread over 9 seconds. I brought them all into layers in Photoshop, aligned them, used curves to manually adjust each one so the exposures are the same and then blended birds from each frame into one composite image. I guess that’s cheating – but I think it’s a better representation of what I saw than any single frame I made.
I like images that reveal more the longer / closer you look at them. and this one does. Please click on it to see it larger.
Here are a few more photos from that morning. All were made at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Birds usually don’t sleep in. I’ve often seen them take off right at sunrise and head out to start their day. It’s fun to watch. Next time I’m going to try to remember to make a video!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I haven’t been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in a while (the last time was back in May!) and I miss the place. So I left around 6pm yesterday and headed over.
Along Gator Creek Road
It was raining at our house in Winter Springs. Over on the coast, it was dry, but threatening. The clouds were just awesome – I even spotted some that looked like Mammatus clouds.
Next time I’ll leave a bit earlier – the light was a little dim for bird photography but I did see a few. I’m usually there in the morning and they behave differently in the evening. It was interesting to watch them going home in formation to roost for the night and to spot groups perched in trees and lined up along power lines.
Kevin M, Robert W, Tom M, Lutfi E, and I met at Parish Park in Titusville last weekend for a photo excursion. We got there well before sunrise and had time for a few night photos.
Stars above the causeway at Parrish Park – Looking SW, before dawn.
When we’d all arrived, we carpooled over to East Gator Creek Road for sunrise. Since it was so clear before dawn, I didn’t think it would be very good. But once again, Mother Nature surprised me, and a set of clouds moved in to add interest and color to the sky.
After daybreak, we drove on around East Gator Creek Road and then Black Point Wildlife Drive looking for birds. We didn’t have to look too hard – they’re out force!
We saw many species and huge numbers of some of them. White Pelicans were especially plentiful, both foraging in the water and soaring above us. There were other huge formations of ducks flying over, but they were too high for me to ID. One smaller flock flew very low right down the road. I didn’t see them coming and the noise when they passed startled me.
We also saw Ring billed Gulls, a Bonaparte’s Gull, a some Forster’s Terns, Least Terns, a Black Skimmer, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Blue winged Teals, Lesser Scaups, Red Breasted Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Pied billed Greebes, Greater Yellowlegs, Sandpipers, Killdeer, Roseate Spoonbills, a Bald Eagle, Ospreys, Loggerhead Shrikes, Savanah Sparrows, Red winged Blackbirds, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, Reddish Egrets, a White Morph Redish Egret, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and maybe a few others.
Cooperative Loggerhead Shrike
Highlights also included a very cooperative Shrike that sat still while we all made way too many photos of it, a bald eagle that flew right overhead, and two life birds for me (the Bonaparte’s Gull and Greater Yellowlegs). It’s definitely birding season at MINWR!
As a side note: I got an email from a Flickr contact that’s going to be in the area for a couple of days. They wanted some hints on how to see everything while they’re here, especially Gatorland, Viera Wetlands, and Merritt Island. I did pass along some hints. But then I had to tell them that’s a lot to see in 2 days! The good news is that you’re almost certain to see some good things in those places. The bad news is that you can’t possibly see everything in that short a time – it’s just too large an area and the weather / wildlife might not cooperate. The key is to relax, enjoy being there and be ready with your camera for whatever comes your way. I hope I’m not misleading people into thinking that they can photograph all the things they see here on the blog on their first time out. It takes persistence and even some luck.
I’m extremely fortunate to live near the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the more I learn about it, the bigger and better it seems. I’ve been going to Black Point Wildlife Drive for several years, but only recently started exploring other locations in the Refuge. If you only have a short time to visit, Black Point is a great place to see – but there’s so much more. If you have time, visit East Gator Creek Road, Shiloh Marsh Road, Bio-Lab Road, Scrub Ridge Trail and other areas. Look here for maps of these and other MINWR trails.
Kevin M., Lutfi and I were in place on East Gator Creek Road this morning in time for sunrise. It was my first time at this spot and I was very happy with the views. Highly recommended for sunrise shots!
Merritt Island Sunrise
Next, we drove up to Shiloh Marsh Road. We were able to drive in only a short distance from either end before the way was blocked by chains – I think for duck hunting season. If you decide to drive this road, check to make sure it’s open and make sure your vehicle has plenty of ground clearance. There are some grand canyon sized potholes out there.
After Shiloh, we drove Black Point Wildlife Drive. This road was resurfaced this year and is in very good shape. Not too many potholes here.
Little Green Heron in flight; I made this photo very close to the same spot a few weeks ago – is this the same bird?
Finally, we headed over to the MINWR Visitor Center to see if the Painted Buntings had arrived for the winter. But it was closed too – we’re not sure why.
Today was a wonderful day for wildlife and nature watching. We saw Spoonbills, Ospreys, Redish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Little Green Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Tri-Color Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Crabs, a deer, flowers, Bald Eagles, Ibis, European Sparrows, Cormorants, Anhingas, Cardinals and butterflys among other things.
Butterfly and flower
For more info on MINWR, this search will bring up other things I’ve written about it. And you can view some other photos I’ve made at the Refuge on Flickr here, and here.